Business & Tech

GE promises: 20,000 women in STEM jobs by 2020

A screenshot of a Millie Dresselhaus doll from a new ad by General Electric.
General Electric
A screenshot of a Millie Dresselhaus doll from a new ad by General Electric.

General Electric has publicly committed to employing 20,000 women in technical and product management roles by 2020, the Boston-based conglomerate announced Wednesday.

Currently, about 14,700 women work for GE in such roles, representing 18 percent of its technical workforce. That means the company will need to hire more than 5,000 engineers, technicians, and other skilled workers who are women within a few years.

GE also said it would work to enroll equal numbers of men and women in its entry-level training programs for new hires who recently graduated college.

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The company announced the goals as it released a white paper detailing what it called a “talent crisis for women in STEM roles,” referring to jobs that demand science, technology, engineering and math skills.

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According to federal labor statistics cited by GE, only 14 percent of engineers and 25 percent of IT workers are women. Meanwhile, just 17 percent of computer science graduates are women. The company attributed the low numbers in part to a “vicious cycle of expectations and lack of role models.”

GE said the problem was not just a moral one, but an economic one. It pointed to figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a Europe-based economics agency, that suggest increasing female labor participation could boost a country’s economic output by five to 12 percent, and that companies with more diverse workforces deliver higher returns to investors.

“Unless we bring more women into technology and manufacturing, there will be a significant negative economic impact on the sector,” GE’s chief economist, Marco Annunziata, said in a statement. “This is a problem for business to actively address.”

To meet its hiring goals, GE said it planned to expand recruitment efforts at colleges and universities that have greater proportions of women in technical majors, and beef up efforts to retain and promote women who are currently employees. It also promised “greater accountability” for managers that fail to “foster a more inclusive environment.”

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GE has preached diversity since the 1970s. But like many other American corporations, GE has acknowledged that it didn’t always achieve its diversity goals, and particularly struggled to promote women and racial minorities into top executive roles.

To promote its new hiring campaign, GE debuted a television ad Wednesday that featured Millie Dresselhaus , an 86-year-old physicist and engineer who taught for decades at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014. The spot asks, “what if scientists were celebrities?,” and shows adoring fans dressing up as Dresselhaus for Halloween, texting Dresselhaus emojis to one another, and chasing her down the street for a selfie.

Dan Adams can be reached at daniel.adams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Adams86.